Another week, another announcement of limited edition whisky. Today it’s actually eight whiskies, to be exact. Every autumn, Diageo—the folks behind Johnnie Walker, and many other popular scotch labels—unveils its Special Releases Collection. In years past this has meant vaunted liquid from the legendary Port Ellen distillery on the isle of Islay. Sadly, allocation from the facility, which shuttered in 1983, is increasingly scant. But there’s still plenty to celebrate in the selections below. Here’s your first look at the 2020 bottlings.
Before we dive into specs and prices for each, it’s interesting to note the colorful theme brandishes by their exterior labeling. There’s a common thread connecting it all: ‘Rare by Nature’. So you can expect individual packaging to reflect the wildlife endemic to its respective distillery.
Also of note: this year’s releases include offbeat age statements as well experimental maturation techniques. That last bit is made possible by recent changes in scotch regulation which allows for aging in ‘non-traditional’ cooperage. So in a new Talisker 8-year expression, for example, exists as Diageo’s first-ever rum cask finished single malt. You’ll also notice some odd pricing, i.e. no round numbers in the mix. You can thank the ongoing scotch tariffs for that.
The full catalogue was curated by the company’s master blender, Dr. Craig Wilson. “I’ve created this year’s Special Releases Collection, from some of my favorite distilleries across Scotland, with whisky enthusiasts in mind,” he said in a written statement. “For those who enjoy spicy flavors, my recommendation would be to try our Cardhu, and for those who favor rich, intense and smooth flavors my choice would be Mortlach 21 year old. If you are curious about discovering something very rare, the Pittyvaich – the single ghost [shuttered] distillery in our Special Releases Collection this year is an unforgettable dram.”
And now, the full list of whiskies arriving stateside in late October:
Cardhu 11 Year Old ($111)
- Barrel strength Speyside malt. A marriage of malt aged in refill, new, and ex-bourbon American oak.
- Smooth and honeyed layers with notes of barrel spice.
- ABV: 56%
Cragganmore 20 Year Old ($171)
- Barrel strength Speyside malt. From refill casks and new fresh-charred casks.
- Complex and deeply wooded with a creamy texture.
- ABV: 55.8%
Dalwhinnie 30 Year Old ($722)
- Highland malt matured in refill Hogsheads.
- Aromas of butterscotch, ceding to pepper spice on the palate.
- ABV: 51.9%
Lagavulin 12 Year Old ($164)
- Islay malt matured in refill American oak casks.
- Smoke and briny sea.
- ABV: 56.4%
Mortlach 21 Year Old ($755)
- Speyside malt matured in Pedro Ximenez & Oloroso Sherry seasoned casks.
- Rich dried fruit in the nose and onto the tongue. A touch of drying tannins and spicy chili in the mid-palate before a sudden sultana reprise in the finish.
- ABV: 56.9%
Pittyvaich 30 Year Old ($522)
- Speyside malt matured in refill and finished in first-fill ex-bourbon casks; 7,056 bottles total.
- Tropical fruit notes—papaya, pineapple, and banana—from nose to finish.
- ABV: 50.8%
Talisker 8 Year Old ($119)
- Isle of Skye (Island) malt from refill casks, finished in pot-still Caribbean Rum casks.
- Dried seaweed scents mingle with orchard fruit; slight smoke emerges after the sip.
- ABV: 57.9%
The Singleton of Dufftown 17 Year Old ($145)
- Speyside malt, first ever release from 100% refill American oak hogsheads.
- While wine and pear notes in the nose, grassy elements in the finish combine with slight tickling of pepper spice.
- ABV: 55.1%